How We Listen: On-the-Go

This will be part of a very short series of posts entitled “how we listen” that goes into the audio setup some of us use in various situations and the ups and downs. Starting off: on-the-go.

My commute is primarily by train (DC Metro) and occasionally the bus as well. I also am usually able to listen to music most of the day at work. For music, I have a 120GB iPod Classic with the Rockbox replacement firmware installed. I chose Rockbox for a few primary reasons: it supports FLAC (the format most of my music is in), it supports gapless playback, and it supports cuesheets. In addition, it has very broad format support, has advanced volume, equalizer, and crossfade options, and it supports drag-and-drop so I don’t have to use iTunes.

If you have an iPod Classic and would like to install Rockbox, there’s a great step-by-step guide with all the appropriate downloads at this location. Once you do, if you want to install the “tunelab” theme pictured above, you can download the files/instructions right here.

For headphones, I use either the Audio Technica ATH-M50 over-ears or Sony MDR-EX10 earbuds. While you can get better sound from more expensive headphones, the ATH-M50s are unmatched for sound quality in their class and are my favorite headphones. They present a very accurate and unbiased sound, are comfortable to wear, and collapse into a carrying pouch for easy portability. Sometimes I couple the iPod with a FiiO E17 portable DAC/Amp (using a line-out from the iPod) for a little added “punch” to the sound and extra volume, but the M50s don’t require the extra boost and the iPod is capable of providing enough power.

Sometimes though, I don’t want the fully immersive audio that over-ears produce due to either wanting to be aware of my surroundings on certain Metro lines or needing to be able to hear others at work. For those occasions, I like the MDR-EX10. They are actually in-ear so they block out more exterior sound than regular earbuds that sit outside the ear canal, but at low volume you can still hear what’s going on around you. Their quality is still really good at higher volumes too — impressively so, especially considering they were only $9. I originally was trying to kill a Best Buy gift card and bought a set of Skullcandy Ink’d 2 earbuds for more than double the price of the EX10s, but the sound quality was so bad I returned them and grabbed the EX10s by chance. Lucky me.

So that’s how I listen to my music on-the-go. How about you? What’s your setup and why?